Roman Genn and ’upset proletarian sensibilities’

[Posted 3:38 PM by James Panero]

Last year in this space I took note of Roman Genn’s first exhibition of portraits at a gallery in Los Angeles. In the conservative world, Genn is most recognized as the illustrator for National Review. Here was my first encounter with his work:

Back in the day at National Review, one of my first tasks as a young editor was to navigate the crowd of Asian-power protesters collected outside the magazine offices. The offense of the moment was a recent cover image. The title of the issue read "The Manchurian Candidate" and the cover depicted the Clintons by way of Mickey Rooney in Breakfast at Tiffany’s--courtesy of Genn. Okay, it might all sound quite harmless, but such is the power of the art of R. Genn. Satire in his hands can incite anybody.
Last weekend in Los Angeles, I caught up with Roman Genn at my hotel in Pasadena. Roman was on his way over to his gallery with an SUV load of new portraits. He pulled the car around and propped the pictures up beside the car one by one (to the amusement of the hotel’s valet service). He said his studio was too messy for a visit, and judging by the state of his car, I can see he was telling the truth. One item that nearly fell out the trunk was a dagger. "For chopping off champagne corks," he told me.

Starting September 8, Genn will have another show at the James Gray Gallery, featuring his latest work. Some of the work he pulled out was in the last James Gray show (like his portrait of Ariel Sharon), some for the next one. He still has 8 more to go before his September opening. The work is bigger than you might expect judging from reproductions, and great fun. If you find yourself in Los Angeles this September, check him out.

In the meantime, you can read more about Genn in the Los Angeles Times: a great interview with images of his portrait work. Back in his days in Mother Russia, Genn was arrested for displaying satirical art that, according to the charge against him, "upset the proletarian sensibilities" of his comrades.

Well, we can say the Communists got one thing right. Genn has made his career out of upsetting political sensibilities, and I personally look forward to much more of it in the future.

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